Quarterback Josh McCown announced his retirement, and subsequent career pivot to ESPN, on Monday and, while that may seem like a small blip on the radar for the lay football fan, his 16-year, 10-team career in the NFL was quite significant, especially toward the end.
McCown helped define the newest era of high-end backup quarterbacking. I did a story on his relationship with Sam Darnold back in October and while there have been great backup quarterbacks in the past (Trent Dilfer used to inscribe bottles of wine for Matt Hasselbeck with every touchdown he threw), McCown’s style took on a different significance under a collective bargaining agreement that meant less practice and meeting time and more pressure on individual players to prepare.
Teams now have to decide (essentially) between two approaches when they draft rookies. Nature vs. nurture. There is either a legitimate competition between the rookie and someone else who is good enough to win games, or there is a sage veteran pulling strings behind the scenes. McCown did a lot for Darnold in Year One. If it was a day game they’d meet up at the facility later that night to break it down. The veteran could act as a liaison between Darnold and the coaching staff, which is especially helpful if a guy doesn’t want to tell his new offensive coordinator that this doesn’t make any sense. He could just be there, which, for someone tasked with lifting a franchise from football nothingness, is meaningful.
It’s to the point where, when I asked pre-draft quarterback trainer (and brother of NFL quarterback Carson) Jordan Palmer about his role in training quarterbacks before the draft, he described himself as a “Josh McCown type.”
While he is not the last of his kind, the NFL should tip its cap to McCown on the way out; someone who embraced the strange detours of a long career with open arms. A quick look at the NFL landscape shows that there are plenty of teams subscribing to this concept. Chase Daniel in Chicago, Chad Henne in Kansas City, Drew Stanton in Cleveland, Robert Griffin III in Baltimore. Money spent on an older quarterback who willingly accepts the role and enjoys acting as an extension of the coaching staff is good money.
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Let’s make today the best June 18th of our lives.
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